The key question for tonight’s debate is whether the NBC moderators will serve up more hanging curveballs over the plate for Newt Gingrich to bash out of the park or whether they will actually scrutinize him with the same enthusiasm they have shown in grilling Mitt Romney.
Gingrich hasn’t been asked a slew of questions. Did his affair with Callista at the time of the impeachment proceedings demonstrate recklessness? His party dumped him as speaker, so what does that say about his leadership? He claims not to be a lobbyist, but former colleagues say he did push for Medicare Part D and defend Freddie Mac to lawmakers; are they all mistaken or lying? He’s been in favor of cap-and-trade, earmarks, the individual mandate, ethanol subsidies and a slew of spending ideas. Why should conservatives think he is to the right of Romney? He talks about being a “cheap hawk,” but the military says billions are needed to replace aging equipment. Is he realistic about the cost of national security? With unfavorable ratings nearly 30 points higher than his favorable ratings, how is he supposed to win over independents? Isn’t Rick Santorum more consistent and more conservative than Gingrich?
As for Santorum, he should be pressed for a better explanation of his opposition to right-to-work legislation and for tariffs. On his economic plan he should explain why giving special tax treatment to manufacturing (less than 15 percent of the economy) is preferable to giving a lower tax rate to all corporations. How will he make up for his lack of executive experience? In speaking about the importance of character and personal morality, does he mean to suggest Gingrich is unfit to serve as president?
Mitt Romney has been less specific and less bold on tax reform than on spending and entitlement reform. Why? Should voters concerned about electability worry about his slowness to release his tax returns and to mount a full-throated defense of Bain? Is he going to be able to connect with blue-collar voters critical to winning the general election? He has said not everything in RomneyCare worked; what are those defects? He should be pressed on what measures he would favor (if any) to promote legal immigration of high-skilled workers.
Given their proximity to Cuba and Latin America, Floridians would likely be interested in all the candidates’ views on Cuba (Have sanctions worked?), the threat from Hugo Chavez and opportunities for expanded trade.
There is plenty to ask and reason to press each of the candidates to be more specific and forthcoming. Shorter, punchier questions and tough follow-ups would seem to be a good idea. And most of all, let the candidate mix it up. (The best parts of the last few debates have been Santorum confronting Gingrich on his speakership failings and Gingrich tangling with Romney on private-equity funds.) And please, no contraception, “food stamp president,” and super Pac ad questions. We’ve had more than enough of all that.